J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson at the Wheel





The happiest moment in the whole day for Don came when Bert put both arms lovingly around his neck and whispered, Youre a trump, old man.

And so the four-legged recruit went happily to sleep to dream that he was rescuing all the boys in camp.

CHAPTER XII
The Youngsters Great Day

Say, fellows, said Bert, as he lay stretched out lazily beneath the limbs of a spreading beech, isnt this the finest day ever?

You bet it is, said Tom, the mould was broken when this day was made.

It was, indeed, one of the perfect days that come sometimes to break the heat of sweltering midsummer. A brisk wind stirred the branches through which the sunlight, flecking lazily the ground beneath, played over the group of boys, who lay in all sorts of abandoned attitudes on a bit of rising ground a little removed from the camp. They had had a splendid mornings sport. The coolness of the day and the fine condition of the roads and meadows had suggested to them the game of Hare and Hounds. Up hill and down dale they had raced with occasional intervals of rest. When the hares had successfully shaken off their pursuers, still the bewildered hounds had nosed about, so to speak, seeking to pick up the lost trail. Bert and Tom had been the hares and their escape from capture had added to the delight occasioned by the day and the game itself. It was only after the rice that they had carried in their pouches to make a trail had been almost exhausted, that they thought of doubling on their tracks and making for camp.

The hounds had trailed in a little later on, looking a bit discomfited but not disheartened. As Pete Hart, one of the hounds, said though slightly disfigured they were still in the ring. And, oh, how that dinner tasted and how impossible it was almost for the famished boys to wait while the fish snatched from the brook that morning were frizzling in the pan and came in tantalizing whiffs to the nostrils of the boys. Something more substantial than whiffs, however, did quickly follow, and now like gorged anacondas full to the brim, they lay stretched out upon the grass and talked over the events of the morning.

I tell you what, boys, said Frank, it sure was the luckiest day in my life when I struck this camp.

Well, said Tom, I reckon we all say amen to that. Think of being out in these woods on such a day as this with a lot of jolly good fellows and not a thing to do but be happy. When I think of the people in town roasting under the summer heat while we are out here under the trees, you bet I feel sorry for them.

Yes, said Jim, who, as usual, had eaten more even than the others and hadnt before had energy enough to speak, the town is all right in the fall and spring, but when the summer comes, me for the long hike and the camp in the woods.

It sure does us a lot of good, said Bert. I know that when I go back to the city after a summer like this I feel so strong that I could lift a ton.

God made the country but man made the town, chimed in Dick who was great on quotations.

I think it does everybody good to get away somewhere where they can come in contact with the woods and the brooks and the squirrels and the birds. Who was it we used to read about that fellow in the old Grecian stories I think his name was Antaeus, who got into a fight with one of the old heroes and every time he was knocked down, refreshed by contact with mother earth, got up ten times stronger than before. I guess that is the way we feel after a summer spent in the woods.

While they were speaking, Mr. Hollis had joined the group. The boys quickly moved aside to make room for him. Although he was so much older than they, his genial spirit and unfailing friendliness kept him in touch with every one of the boys. At heart he was still a boy and always would be one. He was a stickler for discipline, but not in the slightest degree a martinet. With him it was always the iron hand in the velvet glove, and he was so just, so considerate, he understood boy nature so thoroughly and in the case of each was able so accurately to put himself in his place, that the boys regarded him as a father or rather an older brother, instead of a commander.

I heard what you said, Tom, he said, smiling, about not having a thing to do but be happy. Are you quite sure you have nothing to do but that?

Tom stared a moment, why yes, he said slowly, to make somebody else happy.

Thats the thing, said Mr. Hollis. You hit the nail right on the head that time, Tom. There is no higher aim in life than to make some one else happy.

A murmur of assent arose from the boys.

Now, said Mr. Hollis, we ought to do some one a good turn every day. It doesnt matter especially what that good turn is. It may be a thing so slight as almost to escape notice. It is just in some way or other to add to the sweetness of human life. It may be to give somebody a lift in the automobile it may be a word of appreciation to kindle a smile on some tired face; it may be guiding a blind man across the street, or giving your seat to a woman in the street car, or even so slight a thing as to kick a banana peel off the sidewalk. The essence of the whole thing is self-forgetfulness. To lend a hand, to give a lift, to make life brighter and easier for someone even in the smallest degree.

But what I have in mind just now is a sort of wholesale lift. When I was in town the other day I passed the orphan asylum. You know the one I mean. That building just off the Court House Square with a stone wall around it and a pretty lawn in front.

The boys remembered perfectly. Every one of them at some time or other had passed the place and seen the childish faces at the windows.

Now, said Mr. Hollis, my idea is this. There are from forty to fifty children in that building. It serves as the asylum for all the towns in the county. I happen to know it is carried on in a splendid way. The officials at the head are kind and humane and the matrons in charge take the best possible care of the little ones, but after all they need variety. They want individual attention. In a home of that kind even with the best intentions there has to be a certain monotony and uniformity. They have to rise at a certain hour, sit down at the table at the same moment, go to the school room at a given time, and even play under the direction of somebody else. Now, what a glorious thing it would be if for one day those children could come out into the woods and roll in the grass and chase the squirrels and kick up their heels like young colts let loose in the pasture. What do you say boys, to giving up one whole day of this vacation and make those little ones think they have had a glimpse of heaven?

What they said was plenty. As Shorty said, it hit them where they lived.

There was a chorus of excited exclamations, Will we? You bet! Just try us and see. Whens it going to be? Why cant we have it to-morrow? How many kids are there in the asylum? Whats the best way to get them here? At last Mr. Hollis, smiling, had to raise his hand, in order to be heard.

Well, said he, I havent fixed upon the date. As a matter of fact, I havent spoken to the officers of the institution at all and am not absolutely sure that they will see their way clear to make the arrangement. Of course, they have a great responsibility upon them in caring for so many little ones and they would have to look at the question from every side. Still I dont think there will be much trouble in arranging it. They are just as eager to see the children have a good time as we are, and I think the idea will strike them as a capital one. One or two of the people in charge will, of course, have to come with them. Ordinarily they might feel a little timid about letting the children spend a whole day in the woods in company with a lot of high-spirited boys who might be reckless, and, even with the best intentions, lead them into danger. Still, you boys have established such a good reputation in this neighborhood, and here Mr. Hollis looked about on the eager faces with an expression of pride, that I dont think there will be any real trouble in arranging the affair.

It is a capital idea, said Dick, warmly. How did you come to think about it?

Well, said Mr. Hollis, it wasnt original with me. Its a custom in the city to set aside a day each year as Orphans Day. There are thousands of well-to-do people, owners of automobiles, who have the tenderest sympathy with these little ones deprived, by nature, of their natural guardians, and on that one day of the year they give up all thought of selfish enjoyment and try to give the children the time of their lives. Its a splendid sight and warms the heart to see the long line of automobiles coming down the avenues decked with flags and overflowing with the little tots. Off they go to the beach where all sorts of amusements have been prepared for them. They dig in the sand. They paddle about with bare feet at the edge of the breakers. They take in every innocent amusement from one end of the island to another. They havent any money to spend, but they couldnt spend it if they had. Everything is free. The spirit of kindness and good feeling is shared by all the owners of the different resorts, and the doors are flung wide open the minute the children come in sight. They see the moving pictures. They ride in the merry-go-round. They hold their breath as they speed up and down the scenic railways. They watch, with awed admiration, the wandering artist who moulds tigers and lions in the sand. The life guards take them in their boats and row around the different piers. They go to the great animal shows and see the big brutes put through their wonderful tricks. They sit in the weighing machines. They throw base-balls at the clay figures and the larger boys are even permitted supreme pleasure for a boy to fire at the target in the shooting galleries. They watch the great ocean steamers as they go past at a distance, and the smaller vessels, like white-winged birds, that hug the shore. And eat! How they do eat! They are like a flock of ravenous locusts and the food disappears as if by magic. Its a day of days for the poor little youngsters, to be talked over and dreamed over for months to come, and when at the end of the day they pile into the autos, tired, full, happy as larks, for the swift return journey to the only place they know as home, it is a question who are the happier, the little ones to whom this means so much or the owners of the machines who, for that one day at least have spent themselves gladly for the happiness of others.

The boys listened with rapt attention, and when Mr. Hollis had finished they were chock full of enthusiasm.

Well, said Tom, we havent any beach here, but I am willing to bet that by the time we get through with those kids they will have had just as good a time as any youngster in the big city ever had.

The boys all chimed assent to this, and Shorty, who was always impulsive and never could bear to wait for anything that he greatly desired, suggested, Why not fix it up right away?

Well, said Mr. Hollis, I dont see any objection to that. If Bert has the automobile in shape we will go over at once.

So many of the boys wanted to go with him that, to avoid any selection, Mr. Hollis suggested that they draw lots. Of course it went without saying that Bert would go to drive the machine, but in addition fate decreed that Tom, Frank, Jim, and Shorty should pile in with them. Off they went along the smooth country roads, their hearts leaping not only with the delight of the glorious day and the thrilling swiftness with which the great machine sped over the turnpike, but also from the feeling that they were going to carry gladness and sunshine into a lot of wistful little hearts to whom father and mother were only names.

In what seemed only a few minutes from the time they left the camp, they reached the asylum. Bert went in with Mr. Hollis while the rest of the boys stayed outside in the machine of which they never tired, and where they much preferred to stay rather than wander about the streets of the town. The interview with the officers of the asylum was most cordial. They knew Mr. Hollis as a courteous gentleman and a capable and careful ruler of his little kingdom. The matron in charge was called in at the conference and she also assented heartily and thankfully.

It was arranged that on the second day thereafter, provided, of course, the weather was suitable, the outing should take place. Then arose the question of transportation. How were they to get there? The automobile would only carry a few of the little ones even though they were packed in like sardines. The superintendent suggested that no doubt they would be able to find plenty of the townspeople who would be glad to furnish teams to carry the rest.

But just before this arrangement was concluded a thought occurred to Bert. He knew how much the auto appealed to a youngster. They were used to seeing horses and wagons and at times would be taken for a ride in them, but automobiles were scarce in that locality and seemed almost like a fairy vehicle to the little ones, as with faces pressed against the panes they would see an occasional touring car glide swiftly along the road in front. Where were the horses? What made them go? Why do they go so fast? It seemed to Bert that half the delight of the little ones would be in the automobile ride and as he pictured the little wave of envy and discontent that would inevitably come over the youngsters who were forced to take the more prosaic and common place wagons, he said:

Whats the matter with taking them all over in the machine? Of course we would have to make a good many trips, but what of that? It only takes a few minutes to get from here to the camp and turn our load loose in the woods and then come back for another. The whole thing could be managed in a couple of hours. Bob and I could take turns in driving the machine. I am sure Bob would be glad to, and I know I would, and as for the kids, there is no question of the way they would feel about it.

All right, said Mr. Hollis, while the superintendent and matron greeted gratefully this further example of Berts thoughtfulness and kindness of heart.

When the machine returned to camp and the boys who had been left behind learned of the arrangement, everything was bustle and stir at once. Although the camp was always kept in first-class order, this being one of their cardinal principles, yet there were a good many little things that needed doing in order that the youngsters should have the glorious time that the boys had mapped out for them. Some of them took a long rope and fixed up a great swing between two oaks at a little distance from the camp. Others arranged an archery butt and prepared bows and arrows for the larger boys to use. A number of fishing lines with sinkers and hooks were prepared so that the children might have the rare delight of trying to catch their own dinner. Then, too, it was necessary to go to town on several different occasions to secure supplies. Their own store had to be replenished, and besides, they wanted to get a lot of extra dainties that would appeal especially to the appetites of their little guests.

There had been a heavy rain a day or two before and the prospects were that nothing in the way of bad weather would mar the outing. This had been a question of a little anxiety because their stay in camp was rapidly nearing a close. Many of the boys had only a limited time to stay and had to return to their employment in the city. And even those who could extend the period had no desire to do so after their fellows had gone.

In all this rush of preparation the automobile race was not neglected. Every boy in the camp felt as though his own personal reputation was involved in winning. Rumors had filtered in from different quarters that Ralph Quinby, the driver of the Gray Ghost, was simply burning up the roads in exercise. It was even said that for a short distance he had attained the speed of a mile a minute.

While there was no bitterness in the rivalry between the two camps, yet their desire to win was extremely keen.

You have simply got to get there, old fellow, said Dick as he and Bert were tinkering at the machine on the morning before that set for the outing. It would never do to have those fellows say that the Red Scout had to take the dust of the Gray Ghost.

Well, said Bert, who, as the driver of the car, naturally felt a greater weight of responsibility than anybody else, there are just three things we need in order to come in first. Above everything else, weve got to have the car in splendid condition. It must be stripped of every single thing that might furnish wind resistance and make its work that much harder. Every bolt and nut must be examined and tightened. The lever, the clutch, the gear, has to be thoroughly examined. Many a race is won in advance in this way, even before the machine leaves the post. In the next place, weve got to have good judgment. By this I mean judgment of pace. It isnt only what the speedometer says, but there is a little something that tells the man who has his hand on the wheel just when and just how hard he should hit it up. Sometimes it is wise to trail the other fellow. At other times it may be well to set the pace, but the ability to do either one or the other is the thing that, other things being equal, is bound to tell in the long run. Then, greatest of all, perhaps, is nerve. I dont know whether you have ever ridden, Dick, in a machine that goes a mile a minute, but if you have, especially on a circular track, youll know something of what I mean. A fellows nerves must be like iron. The least hesitation, the least doubt, the least shakiness even for the merest fraction of a second, may be fatal. This is true even if one were riding without anything especially at stake, but when we know that all the fellows will be yelling like Indians, begging us to win, and know the bitter disappointment that will come to them if the other fellow shows us the way over the line, I tell you it is a sure enough test of a fellows nerve.

Well, said Dick, as to that last point I havent any doubt about you having plenty of nerve, Bert. If that were the only thing in question I would call the race won just now, but how about the machines themselves? Dont they enter into the calculation?

Of course, said Bert, that counts for an awful lot. You cant make a cart horse beat a thoroughbred, no matter how well he is ridden. Theres got to be the speed there or everything else counts for nothing. But take two machines of about equal power, and from all I hear the Red Scout hasnt much, if anything, on the Gray Ghost in this particular, it puts the matter right up to the drivers of the cars. Under those conditions, nine times out of ten, its the best man and not the best machine that wins.

While Tom and Bert discussed the thing in this way soberly, the rest of the troop hadnt a doubt in the world that their hero would win. They idolized Bert. They had seen him under a variety of circumstances and never once had he shown the white feather. Never once had he failed to measure up to an emergency. Never once had he failed to use every ounce of energy and power that he possessed. If he should loseand this thought was instantly dismissed as traitorous they knew that, although beaten, he would not be disgraced, and so, with a vast amount of excitement but with scarcely the slightest feeling of trepidation, they awaited the momentous day when the Gray Ghost and the Red Scout should battle for supremacy.

Orphans Day dawned clear and beautiful. There was just enough breeze to temper the heat of the sun. The skies were cloudless. Many a tousled little head up at the asylum had tossed restlessly on its pillow through that night and almost all of the expectant youngsters needed no rising bell to call them from their dreams. Even breakfast was dispatched more quickly than usual, and the feverish impatience of the little tots made it almost impossible to wait for the coming of that glorious automobile.

As it was necessary to save all possible space in the auto for the children themselves, Bert drove the car over alone. When he came in sight he was hailed with a yell of delight by a little group of seven or eight gathered on the lawn, who had been told off, to the envy of their less fortunate companions, for the first ride. The matron in charge made a pretense of keeping order, but she had been a child herself and the attempt was only half-hearted. In they piled, one after the other, tumbling over the sides, or tossed in by the strong arms of Bert, and untangled themselves somehow, some on the seats, some on the bottom of the car between the last and the drivers seat. Brown heads, black heads, blond heads, yes, even one little red head that of Teddy Mulligan made what Shorty said when he saw it was a sure enough color scheme.





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